Each week, Joe (@bstolemyremote) and Terry (@gaylydreadful) review an episode of Freeform’s Motherland: Fort Salem, alternating between our respective sites — queerhorrormovies.com and gaylydreadful.com.
Spoilers for episode nine..
1.09 “Coup”: In the aftermath of Citydrop, the unit comes closer together, while their distrust of Alder grows. Abigail is faced with eulogizing a fallen soldier, while Tally learns something new about Gerit. Anacostia grants one last favor to Scylla.
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Ask and you shall receive, Terry. After weeks of decrying the lack of narrative ingenuity of Motherland, “Coup” delivers a completely unexpected development that still makes perfect sense given the thrust of the episode.
I’m referring, of course, not to the reveal that Raelle (Taylor Hickson)’s mother is alive and leading the Spree (still no word on that), but rather the fact that Gen. Sarah Alder (Lyne Renee) has lost her damn mind. After weeks of having her authority questioned by members of the Council, as well as President Kelly Wade (Sheryl Lee Ralph), Alder makes a big, brash, capital “V” Villain move when she “puppets” the President to give herself unconditional powers – both domestically and on foreign soil – to seek out and destroy the Spree.
I say that it makes perfect sense within the episode because there’s a recurring pattern of behaviour throughout “Coup” that suggests Alder is growing too big for her britches. There’s no less than three different references to Alder’s unparalleled age: 1) when she mentions an old enemy, the Camarilla (more on them later) that she defeated 200 years ago; 2) when she tells Anacostia (Demetria McKinney) she has “centuries of experience” in knowing when people can be trusted; and, 3) when she pointedly reminds President Wade that she has served 45 presidents.
Alder throwing around her weight here is not just about her present authority, but also her historical legacy. It is hardly surprising when she literally seizes control of President Wade’s voice during her television address: Alder’s current position is being threatened, yes, but so, too, is her reputation as the most significant witch in military history. To be cast aside so quickly and easily because of cadets and Abigail’s mother, Petra (Catherine Lough Haggquist)…well that would be inconceivable to a woman like Alder.
As we head into next week’s finale, I really hope that Motherland spends some time with Alder in the wake of this power grab because with this development, she could be a truly fascinating Villain. She’s of a rare breed who believes that all she has done and all that she will do is for the good of the people, regardless of how unpopular or destructive her choices (see: last week’s “collateral damage” murder of the hostages in the Spree truck). Even when “Coup” clearly positions her as someone teetering on the brink of acceptable behaviour, Alder acts with the conviction of someone who believes she’s doing right. And that’s terrifying.
Arguably one of my favourite scenes in the episode occurs when Alder and Adil (Tony Giroux)’s extremely determined little sister Khalida (Kylee Brown) butt heads, once again, over the Tarim people’s songs. Following a cold open in which fifteen bodies are discovered in a pentagram formation with their throats slashed, Alder insists that protecting the 10 remaining Tarim left in the world is a “humanitarian mission.” Khalida calls her on her BS and the two immediately enter in a telepathic mind battle, which is something to behold when Alder is flanked by Biddies and Khalida is…what…eight years old? It’s a great scene not just because it’s a bit of a visual marvel, though; it speaks to all of Aldin and Khalida’s fears about the songs falling into the hands of government and military. The moment that Alder doesn’t like what she hears, she goes on the offence.
This doesn’t bode well for our trio of cadets and Anacostia, who seemingly end the episode in Alder’s cross-hairs. I have a theory about all of this (mostly thanks to something from the preview for the finale), but I’ll save it for my response.
Terry, I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of this jam-packed episode. What do you think of Izadora (Emilie Leclerc)’s belief that the recent spate of attacks are not by the Spree, but some previously unmentioned group called the Camarilla? Are you sad that Tally (Jessica Sutton), our little ray of sunshine, is basically completely hardened now? Has Abigail (Ashley Nicole Williams) finally transitioned away from being insufferable? And where did Raelle and Scylla (Amalia Holm)’s humour come from?!
The thing I absolutely loved about this episode, Joe, was how it twisted my expectations by giving us the episode title “Coup.” The events of the last few episodes established that a coup was on the way…but not in the way I anticipated. Going into this episode, I fully expected a student (and maybe Anacostia)-led coup against the atrocities and iffy management of General Alder. But, no. That was not the “Coup.” So when it was revealed that the titular event was actually Alder taking control of President Wade, I started laughing.
Joe, I love a good villain and this play by Alder kind of cemented my love of her character.
You’re absolutely right, though, this was a jam-packed episode filled with details big and small. On the small side, I loved the reveal that General Alder doesn’t eat and that her nutrition (seemingly) comes from the group of Biddies voraciously eating in front of her. Just a tiny detail that helps fill in the world a bit more. As always, I’m fascinated by these little throw-away bits. Same with President Wade’s hissing reaction to the Biddies hissing at her. The way she turns to them and just hiss-silences them was comedic gold.
But on the bigger side, we also get the introduction of the mysterious Camarilla. Now, in the real world, that term is used for a group of individuals who influence a king’s policies behind the scenes but I’ll be honest, my first reaction to the name came from a much different source. *Puts on his geeky glasses* In Vampire: The Masquerade, a tabletop roleplaying game, the Camarilla is a sect of vampires that protect “The Masquerade,” or the veil that separates vampires from humans. In other words, their goal is to convince humans that vampires don’t exist.
In both forms, they represent a secret group trying to influence events while not drawing attention to themselves. So whatever form this illusive Camarilla takes in Motherland, I do think the name was explicitly chosen because of these two connective tissues. I’ll be curious to find out if the Spree are unknowingly a puppet organization of the Camarilla or if the Camarilla has come back to put the witches in their place. Either way, if Motherland is renewed for a second season I have a feeling that they will become a more sinister entity.
We also got a bit of character changes that you alluded to. RIP Sunshine and Flowers Tally. It’s come as an all-encompassing avalanche of disillusionment. In “CityDrop,” it was disillusionment in the cause she joined, thinking she was doing a good thing. In “Coup,” that truth was hammered home with the way Alder managed to snag power from the President and the ways that the people in power are unable to uphold order. But that’s not all. Her idea of Gerit (Kai Bradbury) and true love is shattered when his supposedly deployed wife Hilary (Rhianna Jagpal) interrupts their lovemaking and…wants to join them. It’s another Gerit lie. He knew she was coming home early and was hoping for a threesome.
And Abigail has started the long, slow climb to an actual character now. The speech at her frenemy Libba (Sarah Yarkin)’s funeral felt incredibly true to Abigail’s feelings towards Libba while also feeling incredibly unrealistic. But it was a step along the way and, unlike Tally’s hardening, it makes me kind of happy to see that all of the institutions Abigail has relied on her entire life are crumbling. Abigail and Tally’s slow decline is an interesting dichotomy of relatability.
Finally, in terms of character changes, we get Raelle’s fiery jokey nature and Scylla’s plea to be loved before she gets taken away to The Place No One Returns From. On one hand, this scene very much played into the “Bury Your Gays” trope that we’ve discussed previously. And the show seems to relish throwing piles and piles of pain on our two queer leads. I just hope there’s a bright light at the end of the tunnel…that doesn’t belong to a train. Because, right now, I need my lesbian witches to burn down their foes together.
But over to you, Joe. You hinted above that you had a theory about our heroes being in Alder’s crosshair and I’m curious to hear your thoughts. What are your thoughts on the wishy-washy Adil and his “I love you, I love you not” situation with Abigail? What exactly is going on with our determined little Khalida (who, we must remember, was saved by the weird mold thing on Raelle’s finger)? And what’s stopping President Wade from just recanting everything she said on live TV and using it as further ammunition?
That last point is likely the easiest to address (and just as likely to go uncommented on in next week’s finale): I can’t imagine how damaging it would look for a sitting President to admit that she isn’t the one in control. Confessing that she can be manipulated would likely benefit Wade’s efforts to take down Alder, but it would prove that she is little more than a figurehead for the witches, which would only further escalate the breakdown in public trust of the government and the army.
Alright, so…my theory: sadly, I’m 100% convinced that next week will confirm that Alder isn’t acting of her own volition, but rather under the influence of the mushroom mold. Remember when we learned a few episodes ago that Alder’s health is directly tied to the foliage and environment of Fort Salem? Well I’m willing to bet that it goes both ways and that infected wall in the Necro cavern has poisoned Alder for its own perverted use.
Now whether that’s as a result of the Camarilla or the Spree (or both?) is the true mystery. It’s almost shocking to consider that we’re nine episodes deep and we still don’t have a good sense of who the enemy is and what they actually want. That’s not a criticism exactly; I almost admire the series’ unwillingness to reveal who its antagonists are. It’s a tricky balance and undoubtedly one that won’t be addressed unless we get a potential S2 since the preview for the finale confirms it’s all about our heroes vs Alder.
So how will Khalida and Adil fit into this picture? Well, this is actually another case of inscrutability since the audience remains mostly in the dark about the destructive nature of the Tarim songs. Alder wants them and Khalida and Adil don’t trust her with them. What do you want to bet that Adil will be willing to wield them in battle against Alder if it prevents the death of, say, Abigail?
I feel like I’m full of questions, Terry! Part of me isn’t even certain that this is the real Khalida (she says she’s cured of the mould, but she also acts like a grown adult, which is…odd). If nothing else, this penultimate episode has confirmed that there is plenty of story left in the series and we should strap in for the finale.
What about you, Terry: what are your predictions for the S1 finale? Wanna place bets on the survival odds for our characters? (I’m calling it now: RIP Alder and Petra Bellweather). Is this truly the last we’ve seen of Scylla? And, random aside, how gorgeous was that aerial shot over the hundreds and hundreds of witch gravestones en route to Libba’s funeral?
Having visited Arlington National Cemetery, the sight is incredibly evocative and desolate. You can feel the weight of their sacrifice in a single image. It actually conveys the stakes for these women more than the singular death last episode (RIP Libba, you were…a plot point). So let’s continue with this death’s gambit…I would not take you up on that bet about Alder and Petra because I’m pretty sure you’re right…and I don’t gamble.
I’m pretty iffy on the odds of everyone else, mostly because Motherland: Fort Salem seems very cautious about killing characters. I’d imagine our unit is safe, even though I also agree that Adil is going to step in and expose his tribe’s powers in doing so. Anacostia could bite the bullet trying to defend our heroes against Alder, but I have a feeling she’ll be safe to pick up the remnants of whatever’s left if S2 is a go.
That leaves, of the main characters, Scylla. And Joe, I hope against hope she doesn’t die. I have a feeling that events in the finale will set her free and maybe she and Raelle can begin the tentative first steps towards forgiveness. I’m still waiting for Raelle’s mother to show up, either as part of the Spree as we initially suspected or maybe as a minion of the Camarilla.
I hadn’t even considered the idea that Alder is controlled by the mold, though it makes perfect sense. That shit’s doing something…otherwise we wouldn’t have had an entire episode devoted to (and named for) it.
Lots of unanswered questions going into the finale, but I’m looking forward to it. I started this season with kind of an eye-roll when you suggested it, but I’ve become fully invested in the characters, even when the plotting felt a little inelegant. I guess we’ll find out next week back at Gayly Dreadful.